I started my travel career in an unlikely way. After years of teaching special education, I was a stay at home mom. One day, my girlfriend suggested that I attend a training class with her to become a home based travel agent. I knew nothing about travel except I liked it; and figured, “what the heck.” I was spending too much money as a stay at home mom shopping and was looking for a little adventure. So I went.
That was 1999. I went from a part time agent working from home to the Director of Operations for one of the larger cruise only travel agencies in the country. We even won Agency of the Year with Carnival while I was there. I learned so much about the industry and loved working with everyone. But I became burned out. I took a break and it wasn’t until I was planning an innocent trip to Disney for my family that my oldest daughter said, “Mom, if you ever go back into the travel business again, can I have a website where I help kids plan their trip to Disney?” And that is where Ears of Experience was born.
We opened our business in April 2009. People thought we were nuts for starting a travel business in the worst part of the economic downturn and to specialize in such a snall niche. But we are here, we are growing!
Last year was our first full year and it was a year full of decisions. Do we redesign the website? What kind of marketing do we pursue? What is our target market? How many outside agents do we allow before we cap it. We made all those decisions and grew by 103%. We only allowed 6 outside agents and turned everyone else away. We knew we needed to grow systematically and not lose sight of who we are. Sure we made mistakes. But those were necessary for us to know what worked and what didn’t. The biggest thing we took away from last year was to say “no” to any marketing that doesn’t tell our story.
People want to know how we are different before they commit, especially those who come to us without a referral. We are a brand, we realize we need to build that brand, and tell the story of what makes us different. We have refused many bookings to keep true to our brand. So as we move forward into this year, I look forward to new adventures, trying new things but holding true to telling our story, taking care of our clients, and doing it with integrity.
My fears for this year are that we may grow too fast and miss some of the details that make us unique. We can’t afford to slip up on the aspects that make people refer us to their friends, families, and acquaintances. We have built in some checks and balances to avoid it; but it still keeps me up at night. My final fear is not knowing what to delegate. My focus is on growth, yet still maintaining that intimate, detailed, concierge experience our clients have come to expect. I look forward to the challenges of the New Year, new clients, new marketing ideas, learning from all of you, and sharing ideas.
Amy Sinclair is the owner of a fee-free Disney-only agency called Ears of Experience. Ears of Experience builds custom Disney experiences for their clients with an emphasis on personalization. The agency even has Disney kid experts “on staff” to work with the children of clients. firstname.lastname@example.org